Failure- Do We Have Impossible Standards for our Children?

In a short time my son will enter kindergarten. It should be an easy transition, a simple time in which his education continues and he begins to learn more about how to learn in a school environment. But for his mother and I this is not a simple decision and it is exasperated by the rat race created by fellow parents.

There is a desire, a need to provide the best education we can for him and his sibling or siblings. It is not a new issue or something that other parents have not faced. Do we send them all to public or private schools. What I do for one must be available for all, so the question of private education is very serious as I am not made of gold, at least not yet.

And unlike our parents we live in a society that makes the claim that you must start pushing the education envelope earlier than has been done in the past. The challenges of private school are not limited to paying the tuition. First you must find a way to get your child enrolled in school and if you do not start early it may be difficult or next to impossible to get them in when they are older.

In the face of this pressure rational thoughts begin to go out the window. The obligation to educate your child begins to feel more like an albatross around the neck and everywhere you look all you can see is water, water, water and more water.

So in an attempt to pull the discussion back out of the land of makebelieve and hyperbole I ask, what is the harm in public school. Can we still find a solid education for our children? Are there still students who will challenge them and help to push them to do the best that they can. I suspect that the answers are yes to all of these questions.

And I wonder if we feel this kind of pressure to try and provide for our children what does the pressure to succeed do to them. Surely you cannot expect them not to be affected by this, not to feel the burden to succeed.

What is the cost to them and to their young psyches. What damage do we do to them when we create environments in which they must soar to be considered successes. Can we help them buck the tide and make life more bearable for them, and if so how do we do it.

In my mind the answers are relatively simple, but the work is hard. Here is my formula/goal.

I want my children to learn as much as they can. I want them to work hard and to be challenged. I don’t want them to succumb to the thing that tripped up their daddy, laziness. School was relatively easy and I learned how to get by. I want them to do better than get by, but I don’t need or require perfect marks.

In a grading system in which A is the highest and F the lowest I would like to see them with at least a ‘B’ average. Better would be fine and less than is ok too as long as I know that they are doing the best that they can.

I want to extend my help to them and make life easier, but I think that it is important for them to learn how to fail. Everyone fails sooner or later and it is important to learn how to cope with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to fail any of their courses, unless that is the best that they can do. As long as they do their best I can live with that, but more importantly is helping them learn how to be secure enough that they can live with themselves.

At night, when you are alone in the dark with nothing more than your thoughts and the dark you need to be able to feel good about yourself. You must like yourself or you will not be happy. Too many people cannot do this.

Establishing reasonable expectations for school and life accomplishments will help to make their ability to like themselves easier and more likely. Or so your young father/blogger thinks.

A solid pedigree from institutions like Harvard or Yale are nice, but they do not matter nearly as much as the education itself. The piece of paper will not make you a success nor will it provide much for you, at best it may open a door or two. But those doors are not the only entrances.

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  1. Irina Tsukerman December 24, 2004 at 2:58 am

    For the first three years of my school education, I went to a yeshiva. Then I went to the U.S.,and my parents couldn’t afford for me to go to a good private school. So I’m a product of public education. I went to a very large and fairly decent school in New York. I was in an Honors program all the while I was there.

    Therefore, my experiences might be slightly different from those of people who went to smaller schools or non-honors classes or public schools in other cities and states. I came to believe that people who went to learn, will learn regardless of the environment.

    I learned that they are smart and hardworking people everywhere. I learned that there are some very dedicated teachers in public schools. Nevertheless, when I have children, they will go to good yeshivas. First of all, I was unfortunate enough not to have Jewish friends as I was growing up. I have great friends of other backgrounds, but it’s not the same thing.

    Secondly, I don’t believe that simply by going to a yeshiva, a person becomes narrow-minded and can’t get along with people of other backgrounds. I know people who’ve proven that idea wrong. Thirdly, I want my children to have a good Jewish education. Unfortunately, I’ve been alienated from my Jewish background, so right now for me it’s much more difficult to come to terms with certain things, such as kashrut. (Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have a chance to learn Hebrew!)

    Finally, although I’m sure hard-working students can do well even in public school, from personal experience of going to a small private college I find that good private schools may provide a more comfortable environment, more personal attention, better selected student body, etc. That’s a matter of personal choice. For me both character and academic achievement are equally important.

    I hope that my children will get the best education possible, striving to learn far beyond the good academic curriculum. Although academic achievement is not everything is a very important part of life, and I will encourage my children to strive for the best. There’s no limit to human achievement, and I will not let my children down by expecting less of them than they can do.

    Now, I understand that people have difficulties, and I’m not going to go crazy if they don’t always get everything right. After all, no one’s perfect, and I’ve made my own mistakes. But I sure hope that my children are high achievers!

  2. Koftu December 22, 2004 at 4:40 am

    As a student currently in a public high school, here are my thoughts. I have two older brothers. They were from my father’s first marriage, so they grew up in a different time than me. Both of them attended private schools in Atlanta, Lovett and Westminster. As the first to have dealt with the public school system for my whole academic career thus far, I will say this: many people have already touched upon this issue, and I wholeheartedly agree with those who said that the important thing about school is not the education itself, but the stimulation of intellectual curiosity. The facts or methods that one learns in school are not nearly as important as the desire to learn in the first place.

  3. Stacey December 21, 2004 at 9:51 pm

    Your experiences sound awful Zeruel, but I believe there would be cliques in private schools as well.

  4. Anonymous December 21, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    Public school is still very much burned into my mind as the descent of hell that it was. Those cliques, with their codes and ethics; quite similair to state penitentiary. I would say high school should definitely be private, nothing quite as horrible as forcing people into a building like you are punished without trial for a crime you did not commit. Atleast shield the kid from harm when he/she is at it’s most vulnerable age. After that there is more room for choice.

    I agree my opinion is subjective, as i know a lot of people who went to public school without mental trauma, but there are also a lot of people who had the same experience. Still dealing with the nightmares decade(s) later. You never really know until you find out. Kinda like russian roulette. I certainly wouldn’t take the chance.


  5. Jack's Shack December 21, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    Some good comments here. In the interest of time I’ll try to address them collectively.

    Public school is the ideal. I want my children exposed to lots of different kinds of people and different ideas. It is the preferred choice.

    What I hope my children will do is learn to love learning and become friends with children with similar ideas and interests. And I hope that these other children are as smart or smarter than they are.

    Vince, I was at times bored in school. I pick up on many things pretty quickly, so the challenge was not always there. But when I say I became lazy to a large extent it is because it was easy and I knew how to work the system.

    There are many people who are much smarter than I am, but I usually kept up because again I could work the system.

    I want for my children to be better and to do better than I did. It is not that my life is horrible or so hard, but I have had to work very very hard for many things and it has placed a fair amount of stress on me.

    That doeesn’t mean that I do not want them to work hard or to learn a good work ethic, just that there are things that they can do to avoid that so that they can focus their efforts on more important things.

    As was stated I do agree that this all starts at home, the parents set the tone and can be very influential. So we’ll see how it goes. We’re in year four of practicing parenting. 😉

  6. vince millay December 21, 2004 at 3:24 pm

    I went to public schools and state universities throughout my entire, very lengthy education. When I was in academe, and especially now here in New York, I have met many products of private schools. The only thing I can really see that they do is attach to graduates of these places an air of economic and class superiority and prestige.

    And laziness? Do you think that you would’ve really been less lazy at a private school, Jack? I expect that you are, and this is not trying to flatter, an extremely intelligent person. You were likely somewhat bored in school, and would likely have been in a private school as well. As long as your children are engaged with you and with the world, and you teach them to reach for their goals and work to make their dreams happen, they’ll be fine no matter where you decide to send them to school.

  7. Michael December 21, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    I was a frantic parent with my first son. We faced the same cautions and choices. We visited a private school that is reknown in the area that I reside. It would cost big money but my child was my world. At open house the principal gave us a tour. The old school was built with dark woods and appeared liveless. My son being inquisitive and watching his mom and dad ask questions, asked the principal her name. She answered shortly with Ms Smith. He asked her what her other name was and she again answered shortly that he could call her Ms Smith.

    We did not send him to this school. We were still frantic when we received a call from our public school inquiring about our son and letting us know that they had a two week summer program available to help the transistion. He would only attend school for a few hours but would practice doing the things that he would be experiencing in kindergarten.

    The open house there was an eye opener. The school was bright. It was old but well maintained. The people were amazing.

    Our public schools can and do work. My son’s school is a great example. Parents do and need to take an active role in their kids education. Not as a whip master demanding and expecting certain grade points, but as a cheerleader, as a safety net, as an encouragement for their kids to marvel in learning. The school is only the book, they do not supply the love of reading. Parents do. The school is only the homework, they do not supply the discipline and the desire to accomplish. Parents do.

    As my oldest gets older he has already learned that his education and his performance is his to make. I will preach and counsel but I cannot force him to drink from the fountain of knowledge. He has chosen his courses and he has made me proud.

    With my younger son we still continue to read together most nights before bed. I had loved to read to him, now I love to hear him read to me. He has even grown to make up voices for the characters in his stories.

    To finish my rant, I need to come back to schools and expectations from my children. Schools are simply a tool for parents to aid in education their children. As for expectations, I know that they will excel because before school even began we had already taught them the love of learning.

    Thanks for the post and the space for my ranting.

    Take Care

  8. Stacey December 21, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    A Simple Jew took the words right out of my mouth. I strongly share his view of public education — which is why I live in the school district I bought my house in. It is one of the top in the state.

    And grades matter less to me than character. I want my children to grow up to be caring, compassionate, decent members of society.

  9. A Simple Jew December 21, 2004 at 1:23 pm

    Jack: It appears that you and I think along the same lines once again. While my daughter now goes to a religious nursery school for a few hours each week, my wife and I have every intention of sending her (and my son someday) to public school. Why? Because both my wife and I are the products of public school. Public school is afterall representative of society as a whole, whereas Jewish school is analgous to being in Israel surrounded by Jews. What happens when the child goes to college and then is confronted with non-Jews and their ideas? There is nothing wrong with private Jewish school, however my wife and I feel that it is important to teach our children how to get along with people of ALL backgrounds while still retaining their Yiddishkeit and knowing that they are Jews.

    On the question of academic standards, I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t care if my children get A’s or B’s, what I care about is that they will grow up to be mentschen. How they treat others is more important than their academic acomplishments.

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